As you go about your day, you may notice a veteran here or there in uniform. What you may not notice is the veteran picking out their favorite book or their groceries. What you may not see is the veteran chucking dice at your local gaming store. What you may not even consider is the veteran decked out in cosplay at your local science-fiction or comic-book convention. Like everyone else, veterans are civilians too, and there are more geeky veterans than you may know. In fact, veterans are a huge, invisible minority group in the geek community.
In order to explore this topic, I spoke with Minnesotans Christopher Thompson, Leah Bloodgood, and Christopher Bay, three admins of Midwest Geeky Veterans, a Facebook group for and by geeky US military veterans who live in the Midwestern United States. Since I am not a veteran, putting into words what this group is about is a little difficult, so I asked the admins to explain it.
“Midwest Geeky Veterans is a bunch of military veterans who have more in common than just their service, but love sci fi, fantasy, and whatever other geeky shenanigans,” says Thompson. “Since veterans always find a way to run into each other, we decided to form sort of a club within a club. Some veterans have difficulty after separation from the military, and just having other veterans around helps. The fact you can connect on a different level or two by being geeky is an added bonus.” Bloodgood explains, “I think it’s sometimes hard to explain your views to nonmilitary members about certain things, especially any form of military included in books, movies and other media. Having a safe place to voice things is good.” “We provide a safe space for our brothers and sisters to be their geeky selves and have the opportunity to connect with those who have lived their experiences,” adds Baye.
The group itself welcomes anyone who has served in any branch of the US military and identifies as a geek. Be it superhero films, Star Trek, Honor Harrington, or other military sci fi, gaming, comics, cosplay, anime, or even technology, Midwest Geeky Veterans is the place to explore your interests with others who have the shared cultural experience of military service. No one in the group judges you for any of the “twitches” you may have picked up while serving.
“Believe it or not, there are tons of geeks in the military, or [among those] who have served. While deployed I have seen Magic: The Gathering tournaments, and during Halloween in Kuwait there were TONS of Star Trek and Avengers costumes.” —Christopher Thompson
It’s not hard to find geeky veterans because there really are a lot of them. Baye elaborated on his experience with geekiness in the US Navy: “During my first two years in the military I was assigned to various school commands as I worked my way towards assignment on my first ship. I spent countless weekends with my fellow students staying up to the wee hours of the morning playing Dungeons & Dragons, Traveller, or Cyberpunk. Sci-fi movies and TV shows were constantly playing in the recreation rooms, and who could resist going out to see The Rocky Horror Picture Show at midnight?” Bloodgood, who served in the United States Air Force, had a similar experience, saying, “I never had a problem being a geek in the service. I tended to be surrounded by them and almost always had a group to game with, no matter where I was stationed.”
When it comes to geeky military veterans in Minnesota, many of them have found a home in the local chapters of the Royal Manticoran Navy, a fan group for the Honor Harrington book series by David Weber, which tends to attract veterans but is open and welcoming to everyone. Baye explains that when he discovered the group, he was totally in his element. “Okay, the uniforms are a little goofy, but I’m having a blast cosplaying, hosting party rooms—and drinking in party rooms—and now leading the programming team for MantiCon. I’m all in!” Bloodgood and Thompon are also part of the group. Honor Harrington, like Star Trek, Stargate, and Starship Troopers, is military sci fi, a subgenre of science fiction that many veterans are drawn to. Bloodgood says she loves “anything military sci fi,” adding, “I tend to pick military things apart, no matter the media.” Thompson, who is in the US Air Force Reserve, also has an affinity for military sci fi: “I guess I just like the rank and file.” Baye notes that “there are so many military themes that run through sci fi, and so few authors actually have military experience that they eventually get some detail wrong; we get the privilege of looking at each other and exchanging that insider smirk.”
So, what sorts of things would geeky veterans like you to know about them and their community? Thompson offers, “Don’t be afraid to approach us—we don’t bite unless bitten first. We also are always up for just hanging out and generally having fun. One major rule, though: don’t ask too much about our service unless we volunteer that information on our own. Just know that there are some veterans that may have some not-so-nice memories.”
Baye adds, “We are civilians too. We represent all political ideologies and faiths and are as diverse as the rest of the population in almost any dimension you care to measure. We take the duties of citizenship seriously. We understand that vigorous debate, dissent, and even unpopular views are necessary for the function of our democratic society.”
Overall, the message seems to be simple: show respect and consideration, and it will be returned in abundance.
And does the group have any advice for fellow geeks who might be considering a career in the military? “Get fit beforehand, never give up your passion, and don’t fan-explode in the presence of a supervisor,” Bloodgood says with a chuckle. Baye, with a bit more seriousness, adds, “The military is a great place to work. Yes, it is demanding. Yes, you will loose sleep, miss holidays at home, and other unpleasant stuff. On the other hand, you might get to travel to the North Pole via submarine once or twice, and those moments will make it all worthwhile.” Thompson recommends, “Do your research about what branch you want to be in. Check out how well some of the fields in the military translate into civilian fields for after you separate. And be prepared for the very stressful initiation known as basic training. Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask a veteran. We are a huge resource for information!”
If you live in the Midwest and want an opportunity to talk to geeky veterans yourself about military sci fi or anything else, you might want to check out MantiCon, the military sci-fi convention held every year over Memorial Day Weekend in Bloomington. Or just look within your own existing geek community and conventions and you are sure to find a veteran or 10.
And if you yourself are a geeky US military veteran, then Thompson, Bloodgood, and Baye would like to invite you to join them in Midwest Geeky Veterans.